San Francisco 49ers can’t afford slow start 

click to enlarge The Niners’ defense, led by Donte Whitner (31) and Patrick Willis (52), will be tasked with stopping Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson today. (Getty Images file photo) - THE NINERS’ DEFENSE, LED BY DONTE WHITNER (31) AND PATRICK WILLIS (52), WILL BE TASKED WITH STOPPING SEAHAWKS QUARTERBACK TARVARIS JACKSON TODAY. (GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO)
  • The Niners’ defense, led by Donte Whitner (31) and Patrick Willis (52), will be tasked with stopping Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson today. (Getty Images file photo)
  • The Niners’ defense, led by Donte Whitner (31) and Patrick Willis (52), will be tasked with stopping Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson today. (Getty Images file photo)

Ready, set, go. Only forget the ready, set.

It’s full speed ahead into the next era of 49ers football, on display for the first time this afternoon at Candlestick Park. No learning curve allowed for Jim Harbaugh in his debut as an NFL coach.

That’s because today’s game against the Seattle Seahawks is the first must-win of the year for Harbaugh and the 49ers. This begins a three-game, season-opening set that this team has to make the most of.

After the Seahawks, there’s a winnable home game against the Dallas Cowboys next week, followed by a road game against the rebuilding-from-the-bottom Cincinnati Bengals. The 49ers had better be on the positive side of .500 on their way home from Cincinnati or strap yourself in for the longest 17 weeks imaginable for the 49ers faithful.

If they’re 1-2, they’re climbing uphill the rest of the way. 0-3? They’re frontrunners to draft Stanford QB Andrew Luck in 2012.

The final 14 weeks of the 49ers’ schedule could prove to be as brutal as there is in the game. Their nondivision games are made up of a combination of teams touted as up-and-comers (Tampa Bay, Detroit and Cleveland) and legitimate Super Bowl contenders (Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh).

So it’s go time. Alex Smith had better settle at the top of his game from the first pass play. The same goes for Frank Gore and the running game.

The game plan for Smith no doubt centers around the quick, short passes he executed so well in the 49ers’ final preseason warmup. However, Smith has to prove — and prove right away — that he can get the ball downfield to Vernon Davis, Braylon Edwards or anybody in a Niners uniform.

Otherwise, Gore has no chance. Defenses will over play the run, stacking eight and nine guys close to the line of scrimmage, daring Smith to put the ball in the air. 

A slipup this afternoon will be inexcusable. The Seahawks are one of the few teams in the same boat as the 49ers. They’ve seen a massive roster overhaul under Pete Carroll, and let’s face it, they weren’t very good last year.

The St. Louis Rams appear to have continued their improvement. Who knows what to make of the
Arizona Cardinals?

It’s time for the Niners to prove they’re headed in the right direction. That’s what these first three games give them a chance to do, even if they haven’t ironed everything out just yet.

The faithful deserve to enjoy some momentum. They’ve put up with some pretty inept football for a pretty long time, and they’re in no mood to have their patience any longer.

Despite only 15 minutes of positive preseason football, it’s going to be ready, set, go. 49ers 20, Seahawks 14.

Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. Email him at tliotta@sfexaminer.com.

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